PART ONE: THE DESTINY OF ONE

PART ONE: THE DESTINY OF ONE

By: Jenny Lambert

The sun began to set on the horizon as he stared out at the ocean, not knowing really why he'd decided to return. Eleven years ago he vowed never to come back, but for some reason, he'd been drawn to its presence. The smell of the salt and fresh air was invigorating, and as a child, he remembered how much he loved it.

In the past things had been different. His name was Derek Giovanni, a young boy part Sicilian, part American, who idolized his parents, and dreamed one day of having their success. He had spent the first years of his life on Alameda Island, a peaceful community with no crime, no poverty, and no worries. But at age eight everything changed. Galactor came, and in the blink of an eye, everything was destroyed. His parents were killed mercilessly, and he was nearly killed himself. The life he knew was gone, replaced with a new identity, a new name, and a second chance.

Being so young, most knew the boy would have a hard time adjusting to a new lifestyle. To simplify the name change, he was called Dirk instead of Derek. The last name was a reflection of his personality, Daring, and was essentially a nickname given to him by his foster brother, Ace. Personally, he hated the last name, but knew in time, when Galactor was gone, he could use the name Giovanni again.

Walking the beach, Dirk couldn't help but reflect on the past. He had been playing in the sand, making a castle, while he parents sat watching nearby. Not paying much attention to his surroundings, he hadn't known there was any danger until he heard the shots, the screams, and the laughter. What happened after that still made him cringe, and continued to haunt him. The question had been tossed around in his mind countless times, but it never could be answered.

"I had my father's pistol in my hand. Why didn't I pull the trigger?"

It wasn't because he didn't know how to fire the gun, or that he didn't have the strength to use it. At age six, he received his first weapon, a 22-caliber pistol. He was reluctant to use it at first, because of its weight and awkwardness, but his father had insisted, expressing the importance. "Your weapon should always be your best friend. Treat it with respect, and someday, it may save your life."

Lost in thought, he failed to notice the plane, which circled slowly above his car. He had heard the rumbling of the engines, but at the time thought nothing of it. It wasn't until the plane's engines roared overhead for the third time that he took heed to the intrusion. Something just didn't seem right. Questioning his feelings, he reached for his pistol, then unzipped his pant leg to retrieve his shuriken. "Dirk, what are you doing? You're being paranoid again. It's just a plane, and it's anything but threatening."

Though he tried convincing himself he was in no danger, a knot formed in his chest, making him uncomfortable. It was a bad feeling, like the ones he'd get before going into combat. Focusing on the plane, which was now approaching again at a slower speed and lower altitude, his eyes widened in surprise when he saw the guns underneath. Quickly, all his doubts vanished as the reality of the situation set in. Helplessly, he watched as the plane began firing, ricocheting bullets off the hood and roof of the G-2. Though in obvious danger, Dirk was furious. "Not my car! Oh sh…".

His words were cut short as the car exploded, the concussion from the blast sending his body flying through the air. Crashing hard into a pile of rocks nearby, he felt immense pain, silence, and then darkness.

************

Circling, the pilot smiled as he looked down at the wreckage. He had succeeded, and his Master would be pleased. "Maybe with my accomplishment, I'll be promoted to second in command." The radio crackled as a voice began speaking. "Is your mission complete, and is the boy alive?" The pilot, surprised by the second question, answered hesitantly. "Alive? You wanted him alive? I blasted his car to pieces, but I don't know if he survived."

Anger rose from the voice at the other end. "You idiot! I specifically said I wanted him alive! Get down there and see if he's still breathing! If he's not, don't bother to return, or you won't be breathing either!" The pilot sighed, thinking, "There goes my promotion", then replied. "I will do as I am told Master. I will report back when I find something.

"***********

The pain in Dirk's head throbbed incredibly, but his vision was starting to return. He shook his head a few times, trying to clear the fog, then took a minute to look over his body. There was nothing major, just some bruises and cuts from the flying debris. Attempting to stand, the blinding pain overcame him and he fell back to the ground. He knew he had to regain control, but his anger, now replaced with a tinge of hopelessness, was making it difficult. "Great! This is just great! My car just got blown up, I can hardly move, and that pilot is probably coming after me. It sure was a brilliant idea to come here Dirk."

************

His body lay stretched out next to the rocks, silent and unmoving. Panicking, the pilot edged closer, and was relieved to see the slight rising and falling of the boy's chest. "Oh good, he's alive, and unconscious as well. This is going to be much, much easier than expected." Looking on, he wondered what made his Master want the boy so badly. Soon he would find out, and with any luck, he would be greatly rewarded.

************

Dirk heard the figure approaching, and he lay still. In his right hand he held the pistol, and when the moment seemed right, he would strike. Thoughts of death were present, but he quickly pushed them aside. There was no mercy here. It he was to live, he would have to kill. There was just no way around it.

The footsteps were very near him now, and he decided to act. Rolling to one side, he looked up to meet the face of his target, pointed the gun, and hesitated. Closing his eyes, he tried to remove the all too vivid picture from his memory. It was happening again, just as it had eleven years prior. Raising his arm, laughing, the pilot threw something in his direction. A sickening feeling came to his stomach, followed by a sharp pain in his neck, then everything around him faded again into darkness.

************

At G-Force's secret underwater base, Ace paced nervously in front of Doctor Brighthead's desk. "It's been over a day. Something must have happened to him."

"Don't be so presumptuous. It's not uncommon for Dirk to do this. It's happened before."

"But he always tells someone where he's going. As second in command, he knows how important it is to be on call."

"Ace, I think you're taking this to the extreme."

"To the extreme? He took the G-2, and if Galactor strikes, we have no bird missiles, and we can't use the Firebird Mode!"

"If you're so worried about Galactor, maybe you need to be a little more forceful as leader of the G-Force team."

"Why? So Dirk can drive me even more crazy by doing even less of what I say?"

Doctor Brighthead laughed at the comment. "I know Dirk can be a one man show sometimes, but that's just Dirk. There are some things about him you just can't change."

"You're telling me! One thing is certain though. He'd better have a real good excuse, or he's going to pay heavily for trying to pull this stunt!"

************

As Dirk awoke in the cell, he realized two things instantly. One, his wrists were restrained behind him by a heavy pair of handcuffs, and two, except for his briefs, he was completely naked. The first made sense, but the second didn't. It wasn't until he heard Galactor's taunting voice outside the cell door that he understood. "Well, well, looks like the bird's been caged, and his wings have been clipped too."

Glaring intently at his captor, he said nothing in reply. Already, he could feel his body begin to tremble with rage. "Go ahead and transform young Giovanni, and while you're at it, try to call your friends for help. I'm afraid neither will work. Are you surprised I know all your secrets?"

Galactor had the upper hand this time, and Dirk knew it. Without his clothes he could not transform, and it was certain the cells walls rendered the signal from his transpower band useless. Through clenched teeth he forced himself to speak. "What do you want this time Galactor?"

"What I'm always after. The G-Force team, and control of the Earth."

"You'll never get that, with or without me here."

"You're wrong. This time you're doing it for me."

"What?"

"You will be the destruction of your precious team, starting with that annoying young commander Ace Goodheart."

"You touch him and I'll…." He stopped, knowing that in his current situation the threat was useless. "You're crazy!"

"Am I? Soon enough you will see, and then you'll believe."

************

Staring at the sea life outside the window, Ace unconsciously punched the wall, irritated by his second in command's actions. It had been three days, and he still had heard nothing about Dirk's whereabouts. Aggie stood nearby, trying to comfort him. "Cut a little slack, will you? It's Dirk's time off, and he isn't obligated to report in. He's probably so engrossed in a stock car race somewhere he just hasn't thought about calling."

"Hasn't thought about it? We grew up as brothers Aggie. He knows I worry about him when he takes off like this, and it should be common courtesy to let me know what's going on!"

"Oh Ace, when will you learn? Dirk cares for us all, but based on his childhood, he considers himself to be independent. He's…"

Ace interrupted, rolling his eyes. "Daring? I should never have given him that nickname. Who'd have thought Doctor Brighthead would actually put it on his birth certificate/"

They both laughed, easing the tension slightly. Though the G-Force team knew about Dirk's life before age eight, there were still many gaps that needed filled in. Even Dirk himself didn't know the whole story. It was fact that his parents had been killed for betraying the Galactor organization, but no one knew of his father's power and authority. Antonio Giovanni, if he was still alive, would be at the top of the organization, where Galactor himself now stood. And his son, Derek, would eventually inherit it all.

"Excuse me, do you know where I can find Ace Goodheart?"

Hearing the hurried footsteps and the calling of his name, he turned abruptly. "I'm him. What can I help you with?"

"We've got a problem on Level Seven. Some psycho is running around destroying the equipment in the control room, killing people, and claiming he's Galactor's head of command. He says he won't stop until he finds you."

"Me?"

"Yea. He says it's his duty to take out the G-Force team."

"Really? So why hasn't security taken him out?"

The technician fidgeted, not really sure how to continue. Ace grew impatient with the man's silence. "Well?"

"Uh, I don't know how to put this. This person who wants to see you…he's your second in command."

************

Ace was still complaining as he made his way to Level Seven. "This is crazy! There's got to be some kind of mistake. It can't be…." Reaching the main control room, he stopped mid sentence as the shock took over. "Dirk? What the…?"

Dirk stood patiently waiting, gun in one hand, shuriken in the other. His eyes were icy, and his clothes were stained red with blood. "Ace, it's good to see you old friend. You'll never guess what happened."

Looking around the room at the scattered bodies, he had a pretty good idea. "I really didn't think it was you. But now…"

"Oh, it's me all right. Finally, after all these years, I can be a Giovanni again. This is my destiny."

"What? Killing innocent people?"

"Innocent?" He laughed defiantly. "Far from it. All these years I've been on the wrong side."

"So this is how you avenge your parents? By joining the ones who killed them? What's gotten into you?"

"The truth, my friend. I understand now why they had to die. My father was head of Galactor, and knew the consequences of his actions. Had he defected, the whole organization would have fallen. His murder was necessary, to protect that from happening."

"And what about you? They tried to kill you too, or did you forget that?"

"No, and I understand that too. With father gone, that left me in charge. Some people didn't like that idea, so they tried to get rid of me. They failed."

Ace shook his head in confusion. "Oh, so that makes it ok?"

"They went against orders, and were punished for it. Galactor had them all executed."

"Really? And where did you get this information? I really didn't think you'd be dumb enough to believe it."

"It came from Galactor himself. He stepped down as supreme ruler, and handed it over to me. Even he recognizes the Galactor leadership as being rightfully mine. It was my birthright. It's where I belong, and where I should have been all along."

"I see. So what now?"

"I really didn't want to do this Ace. We spent so many good years together, side by side, and I thank you for all the memories. It's such a shame it has to end this way."

Before he could react, Dirk threw his shuriken, all hitting pressure points and bringing Ace to his knees. He was completely immobile, and could only watch helplessly as his friend approached. "Is this the way you repay me for our friendship? By killing me? You're a coward!"

He saw the pistol, then felt nausea, blood, and pain as he was backhanded with the butt end of it. "I'm sorry you don't understand. I can't change your mind, and this is the only other option. You must die like my parents, to preserve the power of Galactor."

Watching the pistol raise towards his chest, Ace closed his eyes and breathed deeply. "It doesn't stop with me Dirk. There will be others, and they won't stop until they find you. In the end, you won't win."

The anticipation was short, and as his body began to tremble with the thought of death, he heard the shot.

************

As he consulted with Computor, it was hard to hide the amusement. "Mighty Computor, Derek Giovanni is most certainly our best weapon yet. The plan is going along smoothly."

"Good, I am pleased."

"If I may ask, what are your plans for the young boy after he's completed the mission?"

Computor's laugh echoed throughout the chamber. "Do not worry Galactor. When he has destroyed the G-Force team, he will join them. There is no need for two leaders in the organization."

Galactor bowed and smiled, relieved by the response. "Thank you Master."

************

Slowly, he opened his eyes and exhaled sharply. His voice was weak and slightly disconnected. "Is he…?"

Hootie stood over Dirk's body, the gun still in his hand. His face was pale, reflecting both shock and sadness. "I didn't know what else to do. I thought he was going to kill you. I didn't know."

Ace nodded sympathetically, watching as Hootie's eyes began to tear. "He was going to kill me. You did what you had to do, and I thank you."

"What happened to him?"

"I don't know. He was talking crazy, saying he was Galactor's head, and that it was his destiny. It all happened so fast, and it doesn't make sense. Why?" Wincing, he tried to rise, but the pain in his arms and legs was too intense. "Now I know what it feels like to be a voodoo doll. Think you can get me some help Hootie?"

Watching silently as his friend tried to keep his composure, Hootie nodded. "Ace, are you going to be ok?"

Feeling his own eyes begin to tear, he looked towards the ground and replied softly, "I don't know. I just don't know."

************

As the red and white Cessna approached Alameda Island, Ace's heart was heavy. He hadn't wanted to come, but was obligated to fulfill Dirk's final wish. In the event of his death, he asked that his uniform, shuriken, and transpower band be burned, then scattered at the sight of his parents' deaths. Such a request seemed strange to Ace, but he knew his friend's reasons. It was his way of saying the fighting was over, and he could finally be at peace.

Looking out over the water, he replayed the earlier events in his mind. "What happened Dirk? I never thought you could betray Doctor Brighthead and us. Why?" No matter how many times he tried, he couldn't ease the pain. The emotions were too strong, and he found himself sobbing. "My friend, my brother, why'd it have to end this way? Why?"

Silent in mourning, he wanted to ignore the transmission that was coming through from Doctor Brighthead. As usual, it was very vague. "Ace, return to base immediately."

Wiping his eyes and breathing deeply, he responded, slightly agitated. "What's the hurry?"

"I'm afraid we have some strange news to report. I want you to return immediately so I can brief you on it."

"What's so strange that you can't just tell me now?"

The doctor was annoyed by Ace's defiance, but he understood. As a war hero himself, he had lost a lot of close friends, and it was never easy. "Ace, I know what you're going through, but I need you to focus. Just come back and you can see for yourself."

************

His mouth dropped open is disbelief. "What?! You can't find the body?"

The coroner shook his head nervously. "It was here last night. We came in this morning to begin prepping for the autopsy, and it wasn't here."

"How can you lose a dead body? That's crazy!"

"I don't know. We asked around but no one has answers. It's just gone."

Though still in shock, Ace couldn't help but laugh. Doctor Brighthead thought the reaction was odd, and eyed him curiously. "Something funny Ace?"

"Well, not really, but I couldn't help but think. I don't know how he did it, but even in death, Dirk managed to disappear on us."

************

Galactor pounded his fist on the examination table. "He failed us, G-Force's first in command still lives! I send him in to destroy one person, and he can't even get that right! Which one of you retrieved the body?"

Three guards dressed in the usual green attire stood nearby, none wanting to interfere with their Master's rage. "Speak up! Who took the body?"

They looked at each other, then one awkwardly stepped forward. "I did sir."

"And did you do as I requested? Did you let them know who took it?"

The guard did not respond, and Galactor threw his hands in the air. "Do I have to do everything myself? How is G-Force going to show up here if they don't know where the body went? It wasn't supposed to be difficult!"

"Master, you really wanted them to find our base?"

"YES! That was the whole point of you being obvious! Now go back and TELL them you know where the body went!"

************

The horrified screams echoed down the corridor. "Please stop them! Don't let them kill me!"

The two guards on duty sighed, shrugged, and looked at each other. "Great, he's at it again."

"Tell me about it. With all the nightmares that kid keeps having, it's no wonder he's not psychotic."

"How long do you think it'll go on this time?"

"I don't know, but it's your turn to check on him." The guard's face reflected amusement, then became grim with the afterthought. "Don't forget, the kid's very cunning. Don't go soft on him, or you may regret it later."

************

The man approached Ace's apartment door and knocked apprehensively. It was 11:30 PM, and he didn't know how an intrusion at such an hour would be welcomed. He had wanted to wait until morning, but his Master has insisted he tell the G-Force commander where the body was immediately, and he didn't want to face any consequences due to hesitation. Tapping one foot nervously, he waited for an answer, got none, and knocked again. Fidgeting, he watched as one minute went by on his watch before turning to leave. "Looks like no one is home. Oh well."

The blow was stunning, knocking the air from the man's lungs and leaving his vision hazy. "You'd better have a real good reason for being here at this hour. What do you want?"

Struggling to find his breath, the man raised his hands and shook them submissively. "Wait, no trouble…work at hospital…know where body went."

Though suspicious, Ace eased up a little. "Where? And why didn't you say something earlier, instead of sneaking around my apartment at midnight?"

"I didn't want trouble, and they told me if I talked they'd come back and kill me. It's really being weighing on my conscious though. I overheard them talking about returning to some island, to some base of operations nestled in the mountains. What was the name?" Deep in thought, the man furrowed his brows, then sighed. "My mind isn't good with names. Sorry."

"Alameda Island? Does that sound familiar?"

As if the name suddenly came to him, he snapped his fingers. "That's it! You know the place?"

"Yes I do, and it's where I'm headed right now. Thank you for coming forward. I will make sure you are rewarded for the information."

As the man watched Ace jump into his plane and start the engines, he smiled deviously. "So young, and so naive. Enjoy your flight young man. It's going to be your last."

************

Looking in through the cell door, the guard couldn't help but feel sympathetic. The boy was sobbing heavily, his body trembling from some unseen evil. "Please stop them. They're going to kill me too. I don't want to die."

"Hey kid, calm down. It's just a dream."

"Don't you see them? They're right there in front of me! They killed my parents, and now they're coming for me. This time I won't get away." As his breathing became more rapid, he was almost hyperventilating. "I'm going to die."

The guard reached for the cell key, then hesitated, remembering the prior warning. "The boy's very cunning. Don't go soft on him." He listened intently as the agonizing screams continued, then let compassion cloud his better judgement. "Look, you're fine. Nothing is going to happen. Just stop before you have a heart attack or something."

"You've got to help me. They're going to…." Playing on the man's emotions, he choked back the rest of the sentence, began convulsing, then forced his body to go limp. As the key turned to unlock the cell door, his thoughts were racing. "I can't believe this one's falling for it."

The guard approached cautiously and nudged the unmoving body with his foot. "Kid, you're not dead are you?" There was no response, and he nudged again, this time a little harder. "Hey, wake up." It wasn't until he bent down to check for a pulse that he realized the truth.

In one quick motion, Dirk kicked the man hard in the chest, sending him sprawling backwards. His head impacted with the wall, and before he could recover, the boy had him pinned helplessly to the ground with his legs. Nearing unconsciousness and seeing stars, the guard's final words were bitter. "They told me not to go soft on you, because I'd regret it later. I guess death comes to us all sooner or later."

Dirk's response was surprising, yet genuine. "Very few would show compassion in the face of the enemy, and I admire you for it. I could easily kill you, but I won't. I owe you that much."

************

The other guard was smiling when he saw his friend return. "What'd you do to the kid? He got quiet awfully quick."

"It was easy really.".

"Oh yea? How'd you do it?"

"Like this." Smiling casually, Dirk pulled his gun and shot the guard in the head.

************

The secret base was on the other side of Alameda Island, and since Ace had been told it was nestled within the mountains, he found it easily. As usual, the security was moderate, and it was no time before he penetrated the outer barrier and found himself inside.

Galactor watched the monitor screens with a bemused grin, admiring the predictability of the young G-Force leader. "Have a look around all you want, young fool. We already know you're here, and now the fun begins."

Turning to his guards, he issued the first orders of attack.

************

Passing through the cellblock, Ace was surprised by the number of guards lying dead or unconscious. His mind instantly brought hopes of seeing Dirk, but the reality of their last encounter was enough to convince him that the anticipation was pointless. Dirk was gone and he knew it, but somewhere in the back of his mind, since the body was not accounted for, he tried convincing himself that he was still alive.

It was always a circular argument, and always ended the same way, with Ace being angry with himself. "Impossible, he died right in front of you! And why? Because he was going to kill you! Get over it already. He's not coming back and sooner or later you're going to have to start dealing with it!"

************

From the main control room, a green clothed guard clenched his fists in protest as he eyed the security camera. To him, watching the leader of the G-Force team walk straight into an obvious trap was the farthest thing from amusing. It was irritating. Placing a small explosive near the reactor core and setting the timer, he headed off to his next destination, all the while cursing his first in command's naivete. "You idiot! Looks like you're on your own for now. I've got my own job to do."

************

The next room down the hall appeared to be an infirmary, thought Ace thought it more likely to be a morgue. The atmosphere was dark and heavy, and through the faint smell of antiseptic, there was an overwhelming stench of death and decay. In a separate closed off area to the right, he could see the bodies of numerous Galactor guards stacked against the wall, the age of each varying drastically. The ones on the top appeared to be more recent, while the ones on the bottom were clearly decomposing.

Covering his nose and mouth and shaking off the growing nausea, he quickly studied each body, making sure none looked familiar. Satisfied that none did, he turned his attention towards the other end of the room, where two covered bodies lay on an operating table. "I'm definitely in the right place. If they took Dirk's body, it's got to be here."

Pulling back the cover sheet on the first body, his eyes widened and he gagged. "Aw hell…wrong one!" The man had a very unprofessional and irregular slit running from the groin to neck, and the skin was pinned back on either side, exposing every part of his innards. Hundreds of little white maggots squirmed around hungrily, proof that the body had been sitting for days. With his stomach churning, he threw the cover back on, turned away, and vomited.

Expecting the worst, he yanked off the second sheet and exhaled sharply. The sight was relieving, but also distressing. His emotions twisted, and he didn't know if he wanted to scream or cry. Staring down at the motionless body, he allowed the finality set in. "Dirk, brother, you truly are dead."

************

As the guard casually entered the weapons arsenal, he nodded at the others and chanted "Hail Galactor!" They responded in the same manner, then went back to their prior business, completely unaware that they had just been duped.

Dirk checked the weaponry, found two pistols to his liking, then set up four more explosives. "Looks like my work's done here. Time to make my exit and blow this joint." He was amused at how easy it had been, but the pleasure was short lived as he recalled the one obstacle that still remained. "Oh great, I almost forgot about Ace. Why is he always throwing a kink in the plan?"

************

As he continued to stare at the body, Ace's mind lost track of place and time. What he thought was only a brief moment had been in actuality a few minutes, and where he was didn't seem to matter. For some reason, the reality of the situation was still refusing to settle in, and it was starting to become a burden.

Confused, he tried reorganizing his thoughts, but they all came back in the form of a question. "Why am I here when I have no reason to be? Why didn't that guy come to me at the morgue, and why when he came to my apartment did he have all the information I wanted? Why is Dirk's body here anyway, and why has this all been so easy?"

At the sound of approaching footsteps Ace's body stiffened. The guards seemed to be coming from every direction, and were quickly surrounding him. Closing his eyes at the realization, he cursed himself bitterly. "I can't believe you fell for it, you…"

The gunfire began, and as he dodged the onslaught, he used his weaponry and ninja training to take down the first group of guards. Breathing heavily, he had barely enough time to pause before the reinforcements began filing in. Ace eyed the second group, which numbered slightly under one fifty, and sighed. "There's too many of them! I really think they got me good this time."

Frantically looking for an escape, he spotted a darkened hallway near the north end of the room. Sprinting for it, he got half way there before a guard appeared at the entrance, screamed something inaudible in his direction, and began firing into the mob of Galactor guards. Bodies fell by the dozens, but Ace, seeing only the green uniform and registering only that the man was armed, pulled his own gun and fired. The man grabbed his stomach and crumpled to the floor, the blood from the wound already beginning to soak through the uniform. As his free hand reached up in a plea for help, he said something, but Ace's ears were ringing too badly to understand the words. Looking down sympathetically Ace replied, "I'm sorry", then turned and ran down the empty hallway.

He never looked back, but could hear the echo of rapid gunfire and footsteps behind him. Though he tried quickening his pace, exhaustion was taking over, and he felt himself beginning to lag. Up ahead the hallway branched out into a large room, and as he entered it, a feeling of dread overcame him. There was only one exit, and it was through the door he had just come in from. Watching as the guards began to file in, Ace surrendered and dropped to his knees.

************

Galactor's laugh could be heard, and as he looked up, he was blinded by the glow of a giant spotlight. "Welcome young Goodheart. We've been expecting you."

"You mean you went through all this trouble just for me? I'm honored."

Annoyed with the boy's cockiness, Galactor turned to one of his best marksmen for retaliation. "Well, as they say, it's always good to start at the top."

A single shot rang out, and before Ace could react, there was white-hot pain in his left shoulder. Reaching over he saw the blood on his hand, but remained unfazed by the injury. "Start at the top? Is that why you killed Dirk first instead of me?"

Galactor's laugh grew louder and more intense, and his response was chilling. "I didn't kill your friend. You did it for me. Such a shame he was posing as one of our guards. Not too smart an idea while in the face of the enemy."

"I may fall for some of your tricks but I won't fall for this one! Dirk died while attacking me at our base, and your guards took his body from the morgue. I saw it not too long ago."

"Did he? And are you really sure it was him?"

As his head began spinning with the growing confusion, Ace felt nauseous. His mind was telling him to believe what he had seen, but his heart was telling him otherwise. "Look, I've got better things to do. If you're here to kill me, get it over with!"

"Ironic how things turn out isn't it? I've decided not to kill you. It will bring me greater pleasure to know that for the rest of your days you'll be suffering with the fact you killed your best friend."

"Stop it! You really expect me to believe you?"

"Want the proof? I'll give it to you." The lights darkened, and as the black spots started fading from Ace's vision, he saw two men toss a green clothed figure in his direction. "Go ahead, take a look. Actually, I think he may still have a few fighting words left in him."

As Ace looked down at the wounded man at his feet, visions of the guard in the hallway earlier flashed before his eyes. The man had been shot in the stomach, and it was obvious that the wound was severe. Eventually, with or without treatment, he would die. Inside his emotions were screaming, "Dirk, it can't be you. It just can't be!" Though his heart told him to find out the truth, his mind told him to remain focused. "This is all just a trick Ace. You saw Dirk's body at the morgue. He's dead, ok, he's already dead!"

Not getting the reaction he wanted, Galactor continued the prodding. "Since you don't seem to care, we'll go ahead and finish the job for you."

"I'm no fool, and I'm not falling for this one!"

As numerous guns pointed towards the fallen guard, the familiar defiant voice nearly stopped Ace's heart. "Galactor, go to hell!"

"Oh, so Derek Giovanni finally speaks? You're one stubborn young man, but also very, very stupid." Turning his attention to Ace, he laughed. "Believe me now? This hasn't turned out quite as I had expected, but its no matter. One dead G-Force member is as good as any."

Ace could barely speak, and as he squatted down next to Dirks body, the realization finally hit hard. "Dirk? Oh God, I'm sorry."

Dirk smiled, and forced a simple reply. "Nice shot."

In a rage rarely expressed, Ace reached for his boomerang and cut down the guards that stood around him. "I'll kill you for this Galactor. I'll kill every one of you!" Assuming an attack position, he looked down at Dirk, only to see realize he had risen to join the fight. Turning towards his friend he asked incredulously. "Dirk, just what do you think you're doing?"

"A bullet wound isn't going to keep me down Ace. If you're going out in a blaze of glory, I'm beside you all the way."

"What? You won't last a minute, now get down!"

"I'll be standing long after you're finished! Just tell me when you're gonna fire that pistol again so I can get out of the way."

Ace shook his head, wondering how his friend could be so sarcastic in such a serious situation. Pulling the gun he threw it in Dirk's direction. "Here, take it. It belongs to you anyway." Grabbing it in mid air, Dirk spun it once and began firing.

************

Galactor watched from above, furious with the slaughter his men were receiving. "There's almost fifty of you, and only two of them! How hard can it be?"

"But sir, those two have the fighting power of two hundred! We need to retreat!"

"Retreat? You'll keep fighting until none of you are left standing!" Seeing the usual agony of defeat coming, he then decided to make his exit.

************

Ace looked around at the bodies strewn everywhere. "What a waste of lives, huh?"

"Nope. The only good Galactor is a dead one."

Unsteady on his feet, Dirk opted to give way to exhaustion. Letting himself fall to his knees, he hunched over and placed his head to the ground. Ace moved towards him and placed a hand on his shoulder. "You ok Dirk?"

He wished he could have sounded convincing, but it was impossible. Never one to cry, especially in front of others, he let the tears fall freely as the pain began to overcome him. "I'm tired, that's all."

Hearing faint echoes of shouts and running footsteps in the distance, Ace pulled Dirk to his feet. "Come on, the reinforcements are coming. We've got to get out of here."

"I'm not going to make it. You're going to have to go on…without me."

"I can't leave here without you Dirk. I won't."

"Why? It's over for me Ace. Can't you see that I'm dying?"

He felt his own eyes become wet as the guilt tore at his insides. "Yes I see it, and it's all my fault! All I saw was the green, and I didn't even think. I thought you were dead, but you were alive, and I…I…"

"Did what anyone else would have done in the same situation. It was an accident, and there's nothing you can do to change it now. You just have to accept it and keep going."

"How? I can't let you die Dirk. Not this way. Not because of me."

"And I can't let you die because you were too busy looking out for me! Now go!"

"Dirk…"

"Don't make me do this Ace."

"Do what?"

He felt the blow to his jaw, then found himself laying face down in the hallway. As the door in front of him closed, he cried out in confusion. "Dirk, what are you doing?"

Through the door's small window Dirk held up a triggering device and explained. "There will be a number of small explosions, then you have less than three minutes to get out. After that, this base and everything in it will be gone."

Pounding on the door Ace pleaded. "What? You can't do this to me! There has to be another way!"

"I have to do this. It's got to be this way."

Ace screamed louder and pounded harder, but knew his attempts were futile. "Don't press the button. Please…"

Dirk closed his eyes and hesitated a moment, then said his final words while starting the detonations. "I'm your little brother Ace, and I'll always love you. Keep me in your heart, and I'll always be with you. Don't forget that, ok?"

Hearing the explosions in the distance, Ace looked at his friend one last time before leaving and whispered, "I love you too Dirk. Take care, brother, and thanks."

************

The final explosion was deafening, sending towering flames high into the air, and littering the surrounding landscape with ash and debris. Through the smoke Ace stared in the direction of the base entrance, hoping to see what he knew was impossible. Dirk would not be coming back this time.

Feeling overwhelmed and exhausted, he looked towards the sky and screamed Dirk's name. Then, as his eyes began to fill with tears, he smiled weakly and said, "Finally, you can be a Giovanni again."

************

PART TWO: THE RESURRECTION

The room was dim, a single lightbulb from the ceiling casting the only illumination. Nervously, Dominic Santiago paced, while staring at the young man who lay in front of him. "You must survive Derek. You must fulfill your destiny."

Dirk stirred quietly, and struggled against the ropes which bound his wrists and ankles to the bed. Unsure of where he was, he looked at Dominic for answers. "Where am I, and who are you?"

"My name is Dominic Santiago. I'm a friend of your father."

"My father is dead."

"Derek, I don't expect you to understand, and unfortunately, I don't have time to explain it now." Lowering a bottle of whiskey to Dirk's lips, he encouraged him to drink from it. "Here it'll go faster this way."

Refusing, Dirk turned away. "What will?"

Dominic laughed. "You're as stubborn as ever Derek. Now drink up. You'll thank me for it later."

He took a mouthful, then spit it out defiantly. "Just what exactly do you plan on doing to me?"

"Derek, please."

From the foot of the bed another man grumbled irritably. "It can't wait any longer. You're just going to have to held him down Dominic."

Doing as he was told, Dominic pressed down hard on Dirk's shoulders and spoke calmly. "Keep still ok? This is gonna hurt. He has to take the bullet out and stop the bleeding."

"What?!" Panicking, Dirk looked down at his feet and saw the man held a scalpel. His breathing became rapid as his muscles clenched in fear. "Oh my God. Don't..."

The words were cut short by a sharp intense pain, which blurred his vision and took his breath away. In the distance, he could hear Dominic talking softly. "It's ok Derek. We've got morphine when it's done."

He concentrated on the voice, and as it began to fade into the darkness, he called out Ace's name.

************

Ace knelt by the gravestone and placed his single white flower at its base. Since he'd returned three days ago, he gave no explanation as to what had happened, and simply stated that Dirk had died heroically. Though the others pressed him to elaborate further, he refused to comment. "It doesn't matter how. All that matters is that he's gone."

Feeling his emotions twisting inside, he stared blankly at the words engraved on the headstone.

DEREK (DIRK) GIOVANNI

SEPT 1978 - OCT 1997

The visions returned, and though he managed to block most of them out, the guilt still remained. "It's all my fault. I'm sorry."

Feeling weary and sick, he lowered his head to the ground and cried.

************

As Dirk regained full consciousness, he glanced nervously around the room. Dominic was sitting beside the bed, and when he saw the movement, he sighed. "You've been in and out of it for three days. We thought we lost you Derek."

"Dirk."

Puzzled, Dominic furrowed his brow. "What?"

"The name's Dirk, not Derek."

"That's not what I remember your father calling you."

"I already told you once. My father is dead."

"And so is Dirk Daring." Picking up a newspaper he began reading the article. "Hundreds of people joined today at Alameda Island to mourn the loss of Dirk Daring, second in command of the G-Force team. The nineteen year old gave his life heroically to stop..."

Dirk interrupted. "I'm not dead, you idiot! I've got to tell the others."

He tried to rise, but a firm hand pushed him back down. "You can't."

"Who are you to tell me what to do? Nobody does that!"

"Derek, let me explain."

"My name's not Derek!" The anger was beginning to build, and with it came pain. As he felt a sharp stab and inhaled sharply, Dominic smiled and asked. "Need another shot of morphine?"

Dirk swallowed hard and nodded. "If I'm supposed to be dead, can you tell me why I'm not?"

"Depends on whether or not you really want to hear it." Based on the glare he received, he assumed the answer was yes. "You were told that your father was killed because he betrayed the Galactor organization, but that's not entirely true. Your father WAS the organization, and if he was still alive, he would be where Galactor stands right now."

"What!?"

"It's not what you think Derek. Your father's means were of peace, not war, but after Galactor came, the vision was destroyed. He used his newly acquired power to restructure the organization, making its main goal the conquest for earth."

"So why didn't father fight back?"

"He did, by trying to defect. As the previous leader, he knew the inner structure of the organization, and figured if he gave this information to the right people, it was possible the organization would collapse. Unfortunately, it never got that far. With the death of the Giovanni family, the threat was gone forever, or so we thought."

Getting the subtle innuendo, Dirk put up his hands, asking Dominic to stop. "I'm no vigilante. My work is with G-Force."

"Your work WAS with G-Force. Now that they think you're dead, you can start over again." .

"Doing what? What do you want from me?"

"In all your years with G-Force, have you ever really been able to avenge your parents? Have you ever really been satisfied, or do you still long for vengeance?"

"I'll never be satisfied until the Galactor organization is destroyed."

"Exactly! And you can't do that with G-Force. I don't want to tear them down, but sometimes you have to work alone in order to succeed. The information Antonio Giovanni died with needs to be rediscovered. I can't think of anyone better for the job than his son."

"Me?" He snapped his fingers. "Just like that you want me to sacrifice my life, my friends, and my family?"

Dominic sighed. "Sometimes sacrifices have to be made for the better of everyone. I can understand your loyalty to G-Force, but the information you obtain will eventually help them to succeed. You can't deny that."

As the words flashed in his mind, he thought about his father, and of Ace's. "Sometimes sacrifices have to be made for the better of everyone." For a few minutes he was silent, then he looked towards Dominic and asked, "You really think this information father had would've taken down the Galactor?"

"I do."

"Then I guess someone has to go in and get it back."

************

Upon first sight, Dirk was leery of Dominic Santiago, but as the weeks progressed, he grew fond of the man. Through old photographs and letters, Dominic showed his close-knit ties to the Giovanni family. He had been there for Dirk's birth and baptism, and was even named his godfather. It took some time, but eventually the past came into focus.

"I called you Uncle Dommi didn't I?"

"That was me. You couldn't say my name so we made it easy on you."

"You always took care of me when father was away." He paused, suddenly feeling bitter. "So why'd I end up with Doctor Brighthead and G-Force?"

"Because if you would've stayed with me, Galactor would have found out you were still alive."

"He found out anyhow. What's the difference?"

"The difference is now you're a grown man, and able to take care of yourself."

Though they had only been together for a month, Dominic sparked something inside that Dirk hadn't felt in years, the love of a father. As he boarded the plane for Monte Cristo, the man's parting words surprised him. For once, he hadn't used the name Derek. Instead he said, "Take care, my son".

************

"Ace, are we going to lose you too?"

He was taken back by the question, and didn't know how to respond. It was true he had become reclusive, staying away from the Snack Bar and not wanting to see anyone, but he had thought it was just a normal way of dealing with the pain. Apparently, Pee Wee thought otherwise. "It's been over a month you still spend all your time at the cemetery. What about us? We're not dead too you know."

For an instant he shuddered, angered by the comment, then grew apologetic. "I guess I have been pretty self-centered, and I'm sorry. I'm just not dealing with this as well as I thought."

Aggie's voice was reassuring. "You and Dirk grew up together, and we know how hard it must be. I'd just be nice if we could see you trying to get better, instead of being so down. We're here for you. Stop being so distant!"

Hootie agreed. "Yea Ace. Dirk would be mad if he saw you acting this way."

"I know." He nodded and forced a smile. "And I'll work on it ok? I just need a little more time, and more support from friends like you. Thanks for being there for me."

************

As Dominic had stated, the contact was waiting in the park by the fountain. After verifying each other's identity through coded messages, they got down to business. "The new recruits were brought along this time, so you'll blend right in. You've already got a uniform, correct?"

Dirk nodded. "And I know just how to act. Believe me, this won't be the first time I've been a Galactor."

"Dominic has told me many good things about you. He looks upon you highly, like his own son. It's very hard to get in that close with him, so I know you must be special."

"He's also told me a lot about you, and how you helped support my father's cause. I respect you for what you're doing."

"Those of us who are left do what we can to preserve your father's vision. Unfortunately, we are few, and don't have much authority in the organization. This is why we're depending on you. As a new recruit you will be tested, but show your courage, and you will prevail." He paused to look down at his watch. "I must go now. The meeting has begun."

"Thank you Jonsey. I hope to repay the favor someday."

"Thank you young Giovanni. Be brave, and survive."

************

The governor of Monte Cristo was furious. "Mighty Galactor, how can expect me to tax the people more when they have nothing left now?"

"That's not my problem is it governor? We need more support for our cause, and if you can't give it to us, then we'll find it elsewhere. Of course, if this happens you will face a penalty."

"A penalty?"

Galactor smiled wickedly. "Yes. I'm afraid so. My master doesn't allow any insubordinate actions to go unpunished."

"Are you trying to threaten me? If you are, it won't work."

"Just stating the facts. You have two choices. One, honor my wishes, or two, die. What's it going to be governor?"

************

Ace pulled the postcard out of the mail pile and flipped it over curiously. "Who'd send me a postcard from Monte Cristo?" Reading the back, he furrowed his brow in further confusion. "What the…?" The sloppily scribbled note on the back just didn't make sense.

Monte Cristo

Murder

Galactor

It all became clear about an hour later, as he watched the news broadcast's top story. "Monte Cristo's governor, Mr. Otto Freeman, was found dead in his office early this morning, the result of an apparent suicide." Ace looked down at the postcard, then back up again at the television. At a loss for words, he reached for the phone and called Doctor Brighthead. "Are you watching the news?"

"Yes, it's a shame isn't it?"

"It's wasn't a suicide. It was Galactor."

"Ace, you don't know that for certain."

"I do, and the proof's right here in front of me. I can't explain it, but once you see it you'll believe me."

************

Doctor Brighthead's reaction to the postcard was very similar to Ace's. "Where did you say you got this?"

"It came in the mail this morning. Are you going to send us out to investigate?"

"No I'm not. I'm letting Red Impulse handle it, because I don't think you're ready to return to duty yet."

"You what? Why?"

"The others are concerned about you, and quite frankly, so am I. You still act as though Dirk's death just happened, and you won't talk about it. Seems to me you're trying to hide something."

He didn't like the Doctor's insinuating tone, or the determined look in his eyes. "There's nothing to hide. I just don't want to relive it that's all."

"Shutting it out won't make it go away Ace. Why don't you tell me about it?"

There was a moment's pause before he began explaining. "We were ambushed and he got shot. It was a bad wound, and he was going to die from it. He asked me to leave him behind because he said he'd only hold me up, so I did. End of story."

Not satisfied with the response, Doctor Brighthead continued to prod. "He had a fatal gunshot wound and you didn't bother to mention it?"

"He's dead ok? Who cares how it happened?"

"All I want to know is why you couldn't say earlier that Dirk died from a gunshot wound."

Ace was beginning to fidget, and it was obvious he was growing nervous. "Because I didn't think it mattered ok?"

"Why would you think it didn't matter?"

"Because of how it happened." Knowing he'd just backed himself into a corner, he lowered his head, dreading the next question.

"How did it happen?" He wanted to scream it out, but instead remained quiet. Doctor Brighthead repeated the question, this time more forcefully. "Ace, how did it happen?"

The memories flashed before him, and overcome by guilt, he called out Dirk's name. "I didn't know. I didn't know. I'm sorry." As the Doctor came to his side to comfort him, he finally confessed. "I did it. I killed Dirk."

************

Working on the production of the newest mecha, a job that he despised, Dirk kept himself sane with thoughts of the future. He longed to return to his friends and family, to the life he once knew, but in order to do so he had to survive. With each passing day, that seemed to grow increasingly harder.

In the three weeks he'd been a Galactor he gained a notable reputation among the guards. Considered to be cocky and arrogant, and in definite need of an attitude adjustment, he was often the target for attack. He'd already been in his share of fights, and though he'd continually take down the best of them, there were always others awaiting the challenge.

Becker stood at the base of the mecha and looked up, never taking his eyes off the young recruit. For ten years he'd been in the organization, and now that he was finally achieving success, his rank was being threatened. "You think you're gonna take my job away boy, think again. You'll die first!" Pulling his gun, the man began firing into the crowd of working guards.

Acting on instinct, Dirk grabbed the wrench he was working with and threw it at his assailant, aiming for the gun and succeeding to dislodge it. Cursing the boy's luck, Becker screamed, "You're dead!"

"Apparently not. But you are." Startled by the words, Becker turned only to realize Dirk had jumped down and taken possession of the gun. "Take a look around, you fool. How many others did you kill just to get to me?"

"Who cares? They're all pathetic, just like you."

"Me? I'm not the one who's been in the organization for ten years and gotten nowhere."

Angered by the comment, the man tried rising to his feet for one final challenge. "Go ahead and kill me, if you have the guts."

Without hesitation, two shots were fired, and then there was silence.

************

Moments later Galactor applauded the kill. "Bravo young man. He got what was coming to him."

Dirk bowed in respect, something that he always found difficult to do. "Thank you master. I'm happy to have pleased you."

"Hmmm…perhaps your promotion will come sooner than expected."

"My promotion?"

"You've got spirit and the desire to kill. With you beside me as my personal guard, there's no way those G-Force brats will ever succeed."

"It would be an honor sir, and my greatest privilege to personally serve you." Trying hard to stifle his laughter, Dirk thought of the opportunities that lay before him. Finally, he'd be able to obtain information on the whereabouts of the Galactor headquarters, destroy it, and get his life back. In the meantime, with the help of G-Force, he was going to enjoy thwarting every one of Galactor's plans.

************

"Doctor Brighthead! I got another one today!" Almost three months after Ace had received the first postcard, the second one arrived at his doorstep. "Galactor's going to attack Coral Peninsula!"

The Doctor glanced dubiously at the postcard in Ace's hand. He knew the team was anxious for a confrontation with Galactor, but the handwritten note seemed too simplistic, and too inviting. "Let's not jump to conclusions Ace. How do you know this isn't a trap?"

"Are you trying to tell me you're not going to send us out again? I'm more than ready this time!" Since Ace had confided in Doctor Brighthead about what happened at the Galactor base, his personality had changed drastically. Instead of being overcome with self-pity and sympathy, he was filled with and uncontrollable desire for revenge. "I want them to pay for what they did to Dirk."

"I will send you out, but only when I can verify that this information is accurate."

"By then it could be too late! I can't explain why, but I believe the person sending these postcards wants our help. If you aren't going to order us out, I'll do it myself!"

Doctor Brighthead's cheeks flushed in anger. "You will do nothing until I say so, and that's an order. Do I make myself clear?" He grew even more furious when he didn't receive a response. "Do I make myself clear?"

The hard stare and icy words from Ace sent chills down his spine. It was obvious G-Force's first in command was not happy with the orders. "Yes Doctor, I understand."

************

Ace was not one to disobey orders, so he was surprised when he found himself contemplating the thought. "I just have a feeling this message is genuine, and that's why I have to go."

Hootie was also surprised. "If you're going to disobey orders based on a feeling, it must be a pretty strong one."

"I want you to know that as your leader I'll accept full responsibility for your actions. That is, if you plan on going with me."

As usual, Aggie was reluctant. "If Doctor Brighthead thinks we should wait, maybe we should. Are you sure you're not letting revenge cloud your better judgement Ace?"

"If you want the death of hundreds to be on your conscience, be my guest. I don't! Go ahead and stay behind, I really don't care. I'm still going with or without you." Seeing the pained expression on her face, he apologized almost immediately. "Aggie, I'm sorry for being so harsh. I just want you to know how important this is to me."

"I do understand, and if it's that important for you to go that you feel you need to disobey orders, then we're with you all the way. We're a team Ace, and no matter what, we always work together."

Excited with the upcoming challenge, Pee Wee blurted out, "Let's do it for Dirk!"

Ace nodded his head in approval. "Couldn't have said it better myself. Now let's move out!"

A few minutes passed before Doctor Brighthead found out the Phoenix had left the docking bay. Though extremely irritated, he couldn't stop the smile from creeping across his lips. He'd never admit it, but somewhere deep inside, he was proud of Ace's decision.

************

As the ground forces approached Coral Peninsula, Dirk's nerves were on edge. Because of his superior fighting abilities, Galactor had unexpectedly asked him to lead the fleet into battle, something his conscience considered unthinkable. Pretending he wanted to attack innocent people was next to impossible, and to make matters worse, he was G-Force's opposition.

He hadn't wanted to think of the confrontation, but it was inevitable. "Sir, its G-Force! How'd they know we were coming?" At first he ignored the guards frantic words, then snapped his mind into focus when the man repeated himself. "Its G-Force! What do we do?"

They were separated into their individual vehicles; Hootie and Ace doing an air assault and Aggie and Pee Wee working from the ground. "Don't let the troops reach that city! Hootie, ready to start the action?"

"My pleasure Ace. Here we go!"

Dirk saw the first shot come from the Phoenix, and for some reason, it irritated him. "Oh, that's just great! I die, and THEN they make it so you can fire the missiles without all the vehicles being on board?"

Longing to be any place other than where he was, he envisioned himself behind the wheel of the G-2. The stupidity of Galactor's guards was really beginning to test his patience, and it was beginning to feel as though he was in charge of a daycare instead of an army. "Sir, they're firing on us! What do you want us to do now?"

"Die!" The single word was muttered under his breath before he answered sarcastically, "What do you think? Fight back!"

"But sir, we didn't start it!"

With that comment, giving up his identity and killing the guards himself came to mind. "What?! Just get out there and attack!"

Though Dirk was amused by the inevitable mass suicide, he was also troubled by the actions of his former first in command. Ace was usually in the forefront during a battle, but today he seemed reluctant, as if he was trying to be non-existent. Knowing the frequency of the G-Force transpower band, he homed in on the signal, hoping to get some answers.

************

Ace began to sweat, and he felt the anxiety in his chest growing stronger. It was a panic attack unlike one he'd ever had before, and in the back of his mind he knew what was causing it. He had come prepared to fight, but now, as he looked down at the men in green, he couldn't bring himself to kill any of them. They all brought back images of Dirk's death.

Hootie was the first to question his commander. "Ace, what's up with you? You ok?"

"Uh…yea, just having some mechanical trouble with the G-1. I think I'm going to have to take her down."

"You can't take her down Ace! We've got missile launchers over here and need some help!" The strain in Pee Wee's voice was not comforting. "Hurry!"

Because of his own dilemma he hadn't been paying attention to what was happening around him, and it proved to be costly. He saw the explosions in the distance, then over his transpower band heard Pee Wee screaming. "Ace! Hootie! Aggie's cycle's been hit, and I think she's hurt!"

"I'm coming! Hootie…." The transmission ended suddenly as another blast erupted near the G-1's left side, sending the plane into a downward spiral. "Looks like they got me too! Give it all you've got guys. Don't let that army reach the city!"

Hootie and PeeWee watched in horror as the G-1 crashed hard to the ground and burst into flames. "Ace! "

"I'm here, for now." Hazy vision and darkness were already beginning to set in, and he knew there wasn't much time. "Pee Wee, You're in charge now."

"Me? Why me?"

"Because there's no G-2 or G-3, and I'm about to lose it too. You're next in line."

"Ace? You still there?" There was no reply, and feeling helpless, Pee Wee said to his last remaining teammate. "Hootie, I think we're gonna lose this one."

************

Dirk watched in disbelief as everything around him began to fall apart. The plan had been simple, and now, with two members of G-Force down, it appeared the Galactor army really was going to take the city. He didn't doubt Pee Wee's abilities as a fighter, but being a commander was a whole different story. It was obvious the twelve-year-old kid didn't have a clue what to do, and something needed to be done, fast.

Without thinking of the consequences, he picked up the hand held radio. "Fire on the army, and make them retreat."

"What? Who is this?"

"Does it matter? Neither of us want to see Coral Peninsula fall into the hands of Galactor, and that's exactly what's going to happen if you don't do what I say."

"If you're with the Galactor, why would you want to help us?"

He took no time getting to the point. "Because I need a good reason to retreat, that's why!"

"Huh?" It was Pee Wee this time, equally confused with the conversation. "Are we supposed to believe that?"

There was a frustrated scream, a few curse words, then a response, which sounded more like an order. "JUST DO IT!"

"Pee Wee, you're the one in charge. What do you want me to do?"

Though it was intended to be a command, the comment came out like a question. "Uh…do what the guy says?''

************

Unlike the first plan, Plan B worked out much more smoothly. Acting as if the retaliation from the Phoenix was a surprise, Dirk ordered his troops into a tactical retreat. Most of his remaining men died from the decision, but they went down fighting, and to Galactor, his attempts appeared valiant. That was all that mattered; it saved him from being killed himself.

In Computor's chambers, Galactor paced nervously back and forth. "Master, I don't understand how G-Force knew we were coming."

"One of your men is an informant! That's how it happened."

"That's impossible! I'd know if there was a leak."

"Apparently you don't!" Galactor wanted to reply but was silenced. "You will have to find this traitor by calling their bluff."

"And how shall I do that Master?"

"Start by going to your personal guard staff and telling them where the next strike will be. Make each destination different for each guard, and wherever G-Force shows up, that's our leak. Leave now! I want this informant found out and disposed of immediately!"

************

"Ace, do you realize what you've done?"

For the last fifteen minutes he'd listened to Doctor Brighthead's reprimanding, and had quickly grown tired of it. "Yes I know, and I'm sorry. The mission didn't turn out quite as I'd hoped."

"You're sorry? You disobeyed a direct order from me, the Phoenix took a pummeling, two vehicles were lost, one of your teammates had to be hospitalized, and you put a twelve year old in charge, who eventually took orders from a Galactor captain! You're not an incompetent leader, and I expected better from you!"

"So it wasn't one of our most successful missions, but we did get the job done."

"You wouldn't have if that captain hadn't been on our side. What happened out there?"

Ace shrugged his shoulders. "I don't know. We underestimated the attack force. For once their plans were well laid out."

"I meant, what happened with you?"

"There's no real excuse, and I know it was my fault. It was our first battle without Dirk and it felt like something was missing."

"Hootie's report said you were having engine trouble, and PeeWee stated the same. Your report, however, doesn't mention anything about the G-1. Sort of an obvious oversight on your part, wasn't it?"

"Ok, ok. I didn't want to tell the others I was having trouble fighting. All those Galactors in green made me panic. I kept thinking one of them might be our informant, and I didn't want to be responsible for another innocent death. I know I was wrong and it's over now, ok?"

"It had better me Ace. Director Anderson is not pleased, and he wants a very good explanation. For your sake, and just this one time, I'll tell him you had mechanical trouble with the G-1. If it happens again, you're on your own. Understand."

"Yes sir." He paused a moment before finishing. "Being on the same level as a Galactor is not something I enjoy, nor something I want to continue dealing with. Believe me, it won't happen again."

************

"That was so sweet of you Ace." Almost unexpectedly, Aggie pulled him close to her in a strong embrace and kissed him. "The flowers you sent me today are so beautiful!"

As he looked at the expression in her eyes, then at the dozen red roses that sat beside her hospital bed, he debated whether or not to tell the truth. The last thing he wanted to do was ruin the mood by admitting he hadn't even considered the idea, but the better half of his conscious was screaming for a confession. "Uh, thanks, but…"

The awkward hesitation had already defined the obvious. "They didn't come from you right?" Her cheeks reddened with embarrassment and she laughed. "I should've known. You're the farthest thing from a romantic." It she hadn't been smiling the response might have been taken seriously.

Feeling the attack on his naivete, Ace tried steering the conversation away from himself. "Didn't this sender leave his name or anything?"

"No, they just enclosed this." She pulled a small card from the bouquet and handed it over. "From what it said, I thought for sure it was from you."

"Why?" He read the words aloud, not bothering to conceal his anger. "'I'm sorry?' The guy actually had the gall to tell you he's sorry? What a jerk!"

"Who? You know who sent it?"

"Yea I know! I recognize the handwriting. It's from our mystery man."

"You mean the one who…." Sensing the growing irritation, she paused, but it was already too late.

"Go ahead and finish! The one who saved our butts because I wasn't doing my job. The informant everyone is raving about, and the one person I'm getting real tired of!"

"Oh stop it Ace! He's on our side you know."

"Is he? Seems to me all he's trying to do is make me look stupid!"

Aggie wanted to resist, but she couldn't. "No, you're looking stupid all on your own! Maybe if you'd open your eyes and see this person is trying to help us, you wouldn't be so vulnerable!"

"Why is it everyone keeps knocking me down, while putting him high on a pedestal? I'm not the bad guy here. You don't see me working for Galactor!"

Ace…"

He didn't let her finish. "I know what you all think of me. You think I can't do my job anymore because of what happened with Dirk. Well you're all wrong! I won't lose my respect as a leader because of some Galactor who thinks he knows it all!"

Stunned by the sudden defensiveness, Aggie watched silently as Ace stormed from the room, slamming the door behind him.

************

In the beginning, Ace had appreciated the postcards in the mail, but now as they came more frequently, he was starting to resent them. Each time they became more and more personal, and this particular one was meant to cut deep.

Stop being a coward

The lives of your teammates depend on it

See you in St. Augustine

Offended by the words, which he knew to be true, he slammed his fist into the wall and screamed. "Who the hell do you think you are? You got my team thinking I need your help to succeed and I don't!"

After calming himself, he read the postcard again, this time allowing the words to take on a whole new meaning. Instead of coming across as a threat, they proposed a unique challenge. "You want to see me in St. Augustine? Fine, I'll be there! We'll settle this little dilemma once and for all!"

************

He awoke to the sound of footsteps and loud voices outside the doorway. "Explain yourself commander! Each one of my men was given a city to target for the next attack, and G-Force showed up at the location given to you. Convenient isn't it?"

"I…I can't, but I can assure you, I didn't give them any information!"

Commander Crane was a decent man, but one who tended to be loose lipped. Though he wasn't supposed to divulge Galactor's war strategies to anyone, he frequently blurted out in casual conversation any private information he'd obtain. Knowing this, Dirk bought the man a few drinks, then learned the next targeted attack was going to be on the city of St. Augustine.

"Mighty Galactor, please, I don't know why their commander was at St. Augustine! After all my years of loyalty, how can you suspect me of being a spy?"

"My master does not allow acts of insubordination to go unpunished! Do you not know the penalty for treason?"

The information would've seemed believable, had Dirk not been told earlier that the supposed target was the coastal city of Marcos Point. Suspicious of the contradictions, he decided to forward the commander's coordinates to Ace instead of the ones he'd been given, a decision that proved to be lifesaving.

"I do, sir, and I beg you not to kill me! It wasn't me. I swear it wasn't me!"

For months, Dirk's mind had endured the torture of knowing he'd given up his life, friends, and family to become an informant. Now, as he was caught in the middle of the needless death and destruction, there was an incessant fear that he was losing more than he'd bargained for: a part of his soul and his sanity.

Burying his head under the pillows, he tried to block out the dying man's screams by repeating Dominic's words over and over, praying that they would bring comfort. "Sometimes sacrifices have to be made for the better of everyone."

************

Ace was fuming from having wasted two days at St Augustine, and the suspicious glares he received from his teammates only managed to increase his antagonism. "Don't any of you even THINK of asking where I've been!"

Doctor Brighthead's rebuke took him completely off guard. "It doesn't matter where you've been. What does matters is where you haven't been! While you were AWOL, we received a priority one-distress call from San Marino, and I had to dispatch the team without you. Fortunately, for your sake, they wasn't a phenomenal number of casualties, and we were able to defeat the Galactor army before they took full control of the city."

"WHAT?!" The sudden outburst made PeeWee cower behind Aggie. "He told me to go to St. Augustine! The jerk lied to me!"

"Who told you to go to St. Augustine?"

Ace pulled the wrinkled postcard from his pocket and threw it on the Doctor's desk. "Your beloved informant! This guy's got something against me, and I don't like it!"

"Maybe it's you who has something against him." It was the first and only time Hootie opened his mouth.

"Shut up Hootie!" He turned his attention to Aggie, who interjected with sarcasm. "Uh oh. Our leader is making himself look…"

"Don't say it Aggie!"

She smiled, then finished the sentence. "…stupid again."

"Look, I've had it with all of you! You want this Galactor mystery man to be your commander?" Removing his transpower band, he tossed it at his teammates. "Fine! I resign. Now you can all take orders from him!"

As Ace turned to leave the office, Doctor Brighthead grabbed him by the shoulders and pushed him roughly against the wall. "You will NOT resign unless I ask for it, young man. Stop acting like a child and pull yourself together!" It was rare to see the Doctor use force, and the action stunned everyone into silence. "I brought you all here because I have very important information regarding Galactor's newest weapon. Apparently though, you'd rather fight amongst yourselves than listen to what I have to say."

PeeWee, the only one who hadn't spoken prior, decided to finally voice his opinion. "I want to hear what you have to say Doctor! We can't let Galactor destroy the team like this! Whatever happened to 'all for one and one for all?'"

They all remained silent, except for Ace. "Galactor isn't destroying the team, I am. I've been so caught up in trying to outsmart this informant I forgot all about the rest of you. I'm sorry." His eyes moved towards Doctor Brighthead's. "Thank you for pushing me into realizing how I've been acting. It's something I needed. It's something that…that Dirk would've done. "

The Doctor nodded in understanding, then thought it best to change the subject. "Well, now that we are all on the same page again, care to hear this information I've obtained? A warning in advance though; it came from our informant."

The sighs of relief were evident as Ace cracked a grin. "Figures. Let's hear what he has to say this time."

************

Galactor was ecstatic, and allowed his unsuppressed laughter to echo throughout the chamber. "Computor, the final mecha is near completion. Soon we will launch the first two from our secret bases in Mount Madrid and Cedarsburg, then launch the final one here from Headquarters. Very soon this planet will be ours to rule as we please!"

"Don't jump to conclusions Galactor! We still have not eliminated G-Force! And what of this informant? Has he really been terminated?"

With the insinuation, the smile on Galactor's face dropped. "Why of course! Why do you always have to question my actions?"

"Because you always assume too much! Since you've arrived here, I've sensed an unwanted and threatening presence. I haven't been able to pinpoint which individual is causing this disruption, but I've narrowed it narrowed down to one of your personal guards."

"One of my guards? But I only brought three to Headquarters with me!"

"It only takes one Galactor, and for your sake, I hope he doesn't work for G-Force!"

Galactor gulped, knowing that in order to clear himself of any wrongdoing, the three remaining guards would have to be killed. It was no matter though, as he could always find replacements. "Computor, I will bring my guards to you personally, and you can do to them what you please."

************

Though he had read the letter numerous times, Doctor Brighthead was still surprised by its contents:

When linked together, these three large spheres will generate a chain reaction of nuclear explosions, which will span worldwide and destroy the planet. G-Force must stop the main sphere from reaching the others. You will find it at Galactor Headquarters, which is located at the following coordinates.

"He states that the Headquarters is here…" Moving to the giant wall map, the Doctor pointed to where the longitude and latitude intersected, "…in an unexplored part of the Himalayan Mountains. Makes sense now why we were never able to find it."

The others were equally astonished. "We've been waiting years for this!"

"This could very well be our last mission! Earth will finally be at peace!"

"Don't go jumping the gun yet team. We haven't verified the accuracy of the information yet, and as Ace stated, this guy might be trying to deceive us."

All eyes turned towards Ace and waited for him to respond. From their direct stares he could tell what they were asking, and despite his own doubts, he answered from their standpoint. "Doctor, can we really afford to wait this one out? What if it's true? We'd be too late to do anything about it, and the Earth will be destroyed. There is no choice in the matter. Send us out!"

Receiving the reaction he'd hoped to obtain, Doctor Brighthead smiled inwardly. "It's all yours team. Hopefully, when it's all over, we'll be celebrating the end of the Galactor organization."

************

Dirk was very apprehensive as he and the others followed Galactor into the dimly lit room. Though he knew he'd never been there before, there was something about it that seemed strangely familiar. "Today you will meet my master, the one who will help build the new Earth!"

A bright red light began flickering in the center of the room, symbolizing the great entity's presence. The other guards looked confused, but Dirk, from his experience with G-Force, knew exactly whom they were dealing with. "Computor! I wonder if he knows I'm here?"

"I do know you're here, young Giovanni."

He felt his mind racing as the panic of being revealed came to the surface. "How? He can't possibly know it's me!"

"I know everything about you Derek." Without warning the unexplainable happened, as the bodies of the two guards on either side of him were jerked backwards and crushed by some unseen force. "There Galactor, I've weeded out your informant! He's only the most prominent member of G-Force, and you lead him right to our headquarters!"

Fearing for his life, Galactor started pleading. "You must be mistaken! Derek Giovanni was killed over eight months ago! Master, please, give me one more chance to…"

"You've failed me for the last time!" The powerful crushing blow was immeasurable, and only death could bring silence to his agonizing screams.

************

The Galactor Headquarters was located in the farthest peak of the Himalayas, and from the air, the rocklike camouflage blended it perfectly with its surroundings. Had it not been for the precise coordinates given by the informant, the team would have passed right over it, considering it to be just another part of the landscape.

Hootie landed the Phoenix in a nearby clearing, then turned to Aggie and asked for what seemed like the hundredth time, "Are you still sure you want to stay behind?"

"Yes I'm sure! The leg still hurts, and I'm technically not even supposed to be walking on it yet. More than likely I'd end up being a liability. You guys don't need that this time."

Excited for his friend, PeeWee chimed in. "You know you want to go Hootie, so stop acting like you don't!"

Hootie mumbled something under his breath, then looked towards Ace for the final approval. He was off in another world, too busy weighing the uncertainties, and wasn't even listening to the conversation going on around him. It wasn't until he heard his name for the third time that he finally snapped back into reality. "Huh? What do you want?" The tone of his voice reflected minor irritation.

"Haven't you been listening? Aggie wants to stay here on the Phoenix. She thinks…"

"Fine! She stays behind. You come with us. There, it's settled."

"That's it? Why couldn't you have told them that ten minutes ago, before they showed up?"

Ace cocked an eyebrow in confusion. "Who?"

"Them!" He followed PeeWee's extended finger to where he pointed, to where at least one hundred Galactor guards were standing. "Oh…them. Looks like we're about to receive one heck of a welcome."

************

Dirk stared in amazement, not wanting to believe what he had just witnessed. His worst enemy, the one he vowed to destroy, was finally gone, and an even more threatening enemy stood in his place. "So tell me Derek, or do you prefer Dirk? Why do you still seek vengeance when Galactor is dead? Is it because you finally see who really killed your parents?"

The comment was meant to provoke him into acting before thinking, and that's exactly what he did. He pulled his gun, but before he could fire off a shot it was easily stripped away. "Come now Derek. You had the gun in your hand. Why didn't you pull the trigger?" Immense pressure began to escalate up his arms, then inexplicable terror gripped him as he felt the bones in his wrist and hand snap.

Though he tried to remain unfazed, Computor sensed the mixed emotions of fear, anger and pain. "Good! Even though you've seen what I'm capable of doing, you still won't give in to your fear. You're strong willed, just like your father was. So sad he had to die…wasn't it?"

The emotional turmoil continued as the darkness that surrounded Dirk's trembling body faded into the glow of a beautiful sunrise. Images of his father and mother appeared, along with the terror their assassin left behind. "Derek, run! You must survive Derek!" With his father's gun in hand, he relived the nightmare that proposed the unanswerable question, the same one that had been plaguing him since the age of eight. "Why didn't I pull the trigger? Why?"

He felt violated, unnerved by the fact that Computor could read his thoughts. "Oh, how emotions make you humans weak. You're so filled with anger, yet it's sorrow that will kill you. Had you acted on instinct instead of self-pity, you wouldn't have placed upon yourself the burden of vengeance. Can you not admit you created your own destiny?"

"This is all just an illusion! You won't break me that easily!"

The assassin's eyes began to glow and a wicked grin creeped across her lips, "You do not believe what you cannot accept. This is very real Derek." Without a moment's hesitation, she raised a gun from her side and shot him twice: The first bullet shattering his kneecap and the second embedding itself in the front of his pelvic bone. "Hurts, doesn't it? Still think what you see is an illusion?"

"Go to hell!"

"You really don't know when to quit, do you?" Another powerful blow was delivered to his chest, this time crushing most of his ribs and puncturing his left lung. His breathing grew slow and labored, and every movement, no matter how slight, made him cringe. "Submit to me and end your torment. All you have to do is beg me to kill you."

************

Hootie's mouth dropped open in surprise. "Look at them all Ace! What are we going to do?"

"Come on guys. There's only about 100 of them!"

"ONLY a hundred?"

Before another argument could start, Aggie interrupted. "We've got more bad news. Two unidentified aircraft just came up on radar."

"Oh sh…"

Ace's curse was cut short by a familiar voice over the radio. "G-Force, this is Red Impulse. We received your distress call and got here as fast as we could."

"My what?" He turned to PeeWee in disbelief. "When did we supposedly send out a distress call?"

Scanning the Phoenix's computerized ship logs only succeeded in causing more frustration. "Ace, I hate to say this but… the record says we never sent one."

"Well how then did…?" Knowing the answer, he gritted his teeth. " Oh no, its HIM again!"

As they watched Red Impulse dispose of most of the guards, Aggie couldn't help but smile. "Well, you can't say his timing wasn't perfect. Those fighter jets are taking out half the infantry!"

"Good! So that means we can leave now and get this over with. Come on!" Grabbing both PeeWee and Hootie by the arm, Ace led them to the Phoenix's exit hatch.

************

The sudden loss of blood caused Dirk's vision to fluctuate, and beads of perspiration began to form on his brow. His pain threshold was at a maximum, but despite the obvious signs of trauma, he refused to give up. "In the end, you…will…lose."

"The only one you fool is yourself, Giovanni. You know the truth."

His voice was too weak for a rebuttal, and though he prayed for unconsciousness to bring him peace, it would not come. Computor's unexplainable power was keeping him alive, and was forcing him to endure the suffering. "I'm afraid there'll be no peaceful sleep for you this time. Are you still certain that I can't break you?"

************

Walking along the dimly lit corridors, Ace tried to ease his worried mind by talking to himself. "Ok, so the guy called in Red Impulse on our emergency channel. Who cares? It worked didn't it? We pretty much walked right in here without a problem. So why am I upset?

"Because this mission seems too easy, and you're tired of our informant always being one step ahead of you."

The sarcasm was well noted. "Ok smart ass, if this is Headquarters, then you tell me why we've only seen a few guards!"

Surprised by the strong choice of words, PeeWee thought it best to keep quiet. He didn't speak again until they were outside the base's power station, and even then, he was a little hesitant. "Um…I'm ready for your orders now."

"You know the drill. Set the charges for ten minutes and get back out here. I'll notify Hootie and tell him what's going on." From the reiteration, it was apparent Ace was still edgy. "Ten minutes PeeWee. That means no fooling around, understand?"

"Lighten up, will you? With the way you're acting, I wish I'd gone with Hootie!" Before a rebuke could be given, the boy slipped away into the darkness.

************

The mocking, incessant laughter echoed within Dirk's mind. "Look, your G-Force friends have come to save you. Too bad it'll all be in vain. You could've gone back to your normal life, and saved yourself all the pain and guilt. Instead, you lost everything, and for what? Tell me Derek, now that you know your father's secret, was it really worth getting?"

It really didn't matter what he thought or felt; the evil was already in his head. "Why ask? You know."

"Do I sense resentment in your voice? Must be a common human emotion; I sense the same in your friend Ace. Like you, he also regrets his actions. I'm sure you remember which one I'm referring to."

The past once again began to materialize itself around him, but this time the illusions were not his own. As he lay dying from the gunshot wound to his stomach, he could hear Ace talking softly. "I didn't know. All I saw was the green, and I fired. I didn't know it was you. I'm sorry." An explosion flashed before his eyes, then Ace was kneeling beside a gravestone crying. "It was my duty to protect you, and I failed. I could have saved you. Why didn't you let me try?"

With his sanity gone, and not really caring what happened, he turned on Computor. "Stop!"

"What's the matter? Can't bear to face the true extent of your destruction? It goes way beyond what you imagined, doesn't it?"

************

"Hootie?" There was static, as if something was interfering with his transpower band's signal. "Hootie, can you hear me?" There was no response. "Hootie? Where are you?" In the distance he heard an explosion, and with his worst fears confirmed, Ace turned in PeeWee's direction. "I knew it! I knew this was too easy! PeeWee, we've got to get out of here!"

The boy emerged from the room quickly; panic etched his features. "What's happening Ace? I didn't even get the charges set yet!"

"You didn't have to. Someone else did it for us!" As he tried to regain control of the situation, Aggie broke in, equally exasperated. "Ace! You have to get back here right away! The mecha's been launched!"

"What?!" There was another explosion, this time so close it's concussion knocked both to the ground. "We need to go. Now!"

"But what about Hootie? We can't leave him!"

Ace closed his eyes and shuddered at his own response. For eight months he'd sworn to himself that he'd never desert another teammate behind, but now, in the wake of another disaster, he was once again left without a choice. "I don't want to leave him behind PeeWee, but we have to. The mecha's launched, and if we don't stop it, none of us will survive. Please try to understand."

************

Hootie thought about doubling back, but something seemed to draw his attention to the voices down the hallway. Over the conversation he kept hearing a name, and for some reason, it seemed vaguely familiar. He couldn't seem to get it from his mind. "Derek Giovanni? Where have I heard that name before?"

He cautiously approached the room at the end, and when he peeked in, his eyes widened in shock and surprise. On the floor, in the haze of red illumination, he could clearly see the mangled corpse of Galactor. Beside him lay the bodies of three other guards, one of who was still alive, yet in obvious trauma. In the center a holographic image glowed; it's voice taunting. "Oh look Dirk, Hootie's here to save you."

Hootie looked down at the guard on the floor, then took a step forward into the room. "Dirk? Is it really you? How? I thought you were…"

He was quickly cut off. "Get out now!" Knowing the extent of Computor's power, Dirk found the strength to stagger to his feet and lunge at Hootie. "Move it!" As he pushed his friend out of harm's way, he saw a blinding white light emanate from the center room, then felt it's powerful currents of electricity surge throughout his body. The pain was excruciating, and before he succumbed to it, he managed to stammer out a few words. "Help me Hootie. Shoot…it."

Computor was amused by the worthless plea. "What fools! Your weapons cannot stop me. Nothing can!"

"Oh yea?" Pulling his gun, Hootie challenged the remark. "Let's see you stop me!"

The onslaught of bullets exploded the holographic image, the concussion from the blast hurling Dirk backward through the air. He crashed hard against the back wall, and with nothing to stop the darkness from coming, he welcomed it with openly.

************

As the Phoenix took off to pursue the mecha, Ace looked down at the smoldering wreckage below and seethed. "I told myself it would never happen again, and that jerk had to…"

"You don't know if Hootie didn't make it out, and you don't know if it was the informant who set the explosives." Aggie put a comforting hand on his shoulder, but he brushed it off, not wanting the coddling. "When are you going to stop defending him! He knew we were coming, and like idiots, we walked right into his trap. I swear to it Aggie. He's gonna pay this time for what he's done!"

************

Visions from the past and present flashed before him, each bringing incoherent thoughts of death, terror, and endless suffering. "Derek, run. You must survive." "Mother, Father, no!" He heard the shots and flinched, then felt strong arms around him and a familiar voice. "Dirk, don't worry. I'm gonna get you out of here, and then we can get you some help. You'll be ok. I promise."

For a moment he struggled against the hold, but with all of his energy exhausted, he was forced to give in. "Hootie, get out. He'll kill you." The panic in his voice was a testament to his state of mind. "Get out now. Just go."

"Dirk, he's gone. It's all over now."

"It's not. It's never going to be over."

His body began to tremble as his thoughts moved elsewhere. "Ace, you didn't know it was me. It wasn't your fault. Dominic, why didn't you tell me what all I'd lose? All I am, all I was is gone. Everything..." The words faded into a slurred murmur. "Did it blow yet?"

Thinking Dirk meant the base, Hootie turned and looked down the corridor. "No, but we'd better move out." Carefully, he scooped his friend up into his arms and started searching for the exit.

The blast of a nearby explosion resounded down the hallway, and as the walls began to crumble around him he quickened his pace. Panic stricken, he rushed to the end of the hall he'd originally come from, only to find it blocked by debris. "Oh great, now what?" It was hard enough to breathe through the smoke and dust, but it grew even more stifling with the realization that he was no longer in control of the situation. "How are we supposed to get out of here?"

He hadn't expected an answer, and was shocked when he received one. "Back down hall...to the left...near the chamber. Escape craft."

************

Though both the Phoenix and Red Impulse had fired numerous times on the mecha, nothing seemed to penetrate it's outer structure. Frustrated with the lack of damage they were creating, Ace slammed his fist into the console panel and cursed. "Damnit! Nothing is working!"

"Uh Ace..." Aggie paused to look again at the blip on her radar screen. "We've got company."

"Who now?" His question was answered immediately when the Galactor escape vessel passed in front of the ship. "No! He's not getting away this time!" Before anyone could even think of stopping him, Ace fired upon it.

************

The missiles exploded near the tail section, engulfing it in flames and sending the craft in a downward spiral. As the fire began to spread to the cockpit, Hootie once again found himself in a situation which was growing vastly out of hand. Knowing he had but one solution left, he wrapped his arms tightly around Dirk's body and jumped from the burning wreckage.

After landing safely on the ground, he took a deep breath before signaling to Ace. He hoped that, unlike every other incident so far, this one would have no repercussions. "Ace? This is Hootie. Thanks for shooting me down."

There was silence, then Ace's startled reply. "Hootie? That was you in the Galactor ship? What were you...? Oh never mind. Relay your coordinates to Aggie and we'll come pick you up. First though, we've got to find a way to destroy this mecha. Any suggestions on how we might do that?"

Dirk's eyes fluttered open when he heard the question, and he replied adamantly, "Tell them to get away."

If his tone of voice hadn't been so serious, Hootie might have thought he was having another moment of disillusion. "Why? I can't..."

"Tell them!"

"Ok." He turned back to his transpower band. "Uh, Ace, I don't have time to explain, but Dirk says you need to get away from the mecha."

"Dirk? What?" The surprise and confusion was evident.

"You heard me right Ace. Dirk says you need to get away, and if I were you, I'd do it."

"Alright, tell Dirk he wins. And Hootie, I hope you have a real good explanation for all of this."

The Phoenix pulled away, and as he watched it turn and come towards him, Hootie couldn't help but question. "You sure you're right about this Dirk?"

"Yea. Watch."

************

The Galactor captain laughed at the sudden retreat of the Phoenix. "Ha! Those G-Force fools are running scared!"

"Should we follow them sir?"

Though the idea of destroying the world-renowned G-Force team seemed amusing, he pushed the feelings to the back of his mind. The mission was of critical importance, and it had to take first priority; there'd be time enough again to confront the enemy. "No lieutenant. I'm afraid we don't have time for those cowardly children. Continue north as instructed."

As the mecha moved farther and farther away from what remained of the Galactor Headquarters, Ace felt a knot form in his chest. "Hootie, what's supposed to happen now?"

"Dirk says to shut up and watch."

"Watch what? The mecha escape? This is crazy!"

A few moments later there was the roar of an explosion, then red, yellow, and orange flames streaked across the sky. Ace's mouth dropped open and he stammered out, "The mecha! How'd he know Hootie?"

"Well…" He paused, not really understanding the answer himself, "He said he built it. That's how."

************

It was the first time Hootie could sit down and relax, and also the first time he could really access the severity of Dirk's condition. "Hey, you ok?" Not receiving a response, he grew concerned. "Dirk, talk to me. You've got to stay awake. Ace will be here any minute. Hold on, ok?"

Though he was trying to remain strong, for Hootie's sake, the fight was gone, and he just wanted to give in to the shock. "Hootie, I…" He paused to cough; blood was present. "I wish you hadn't told Ace about me."

"Come on Dirk. Don't give up on us. We can't lose you now. Not when we just got you back."

His thoughts grew jumbled; words from the past and present intertwining. "Hootie, I failed them. Mother, Father, I'm sorry. I could've avenged you. I could have pulled the trigger, but I didn't. I didn't. I was afraid, and hurt, oh God, why didn't I?…"

"Your parents are proud of you, just like we are."

"Hootie, I...I wanted to thank you for being there for me. Where's Ace? Got to tell him I'm sorry, before..."

From the corner of his eye, Hootie saw the others approaching, and he motioned for Ace to come quickly. "Hold on Dirk. Ace is coming."

"I'm right here." He knelt down beside his friend and placed a hand on his shoulder. "I'm right here, ok?"

"I'm sorry Ace. So sorry." Tears began to flow down his cheeks as his body began to shudder. "I'm not dead. I wanted to tell you, but Dominic, he said I couldn't. He told me Dirk Daring was dead, but he was wrong. I'm not dead. Derek Giovanni is."

"It's ok Dirk. We know now. It's ok." Turning to Hootie he then said, "Let's get him to the Phoenix ok? It's time for him to come home."

************

The surgeon approached the waiting room with caution, dreading what he was about to do. As a doctor, he was always faced with breaking difficult news, and though he'd done it numerous times, it never got easier. "Doctor Brighthead, can I please speak with you alone?"

The solemn tone was enough to indicate that the news was bad. Ace looked at the Doctor; His eyes pleaded. "Doctor, we're all family. Don't keep it a secret. It's not good is it?"

"No, it's not. His internal injuries caused massive bleeding, and the damage is very severe. Based on his critical condition, he has but a 10% chance of survival at best. Right now we've got him on a respirator, but I'm afraid that's only going to put off the inevitable for a short while. I'm sorry."

Ace felt his knees go weak, and he collapsed to the ground; His fists pounded the floor in frustration. "Why? We just got him back! Doctor Brighthead, isn't there any technology that can save him? We can't just let him die, not after what he sacrificed!"

The surgeon interjected. "We proposed to Dirk the possibility of cybernetic enhancements, but he was adamantly against it. He said he'd rather die first, and I'm afraid without his permission, there is nothing we can do. It's unfortunate, as he would have been a fine candidate."

"What? You mean you can save him, but you won't?"

"Ace," Doctor Brighthead's words were somber, "it's Dirk's decision, not ours. He's the one who will have to live with it. Can you understand that?"

PeeWee didn't. "I don't want to lose my big brother again! I'm gonna go talk to him right now!"

Hootie reached out and grabbed his arm. "Stop! I care about Dirk too, but hasn't he suffered enough? If he's not going to be happy with his decision..."

"No! I won't let him die! Do something Ace! He'll listen to you."

He started crying, and Aggie put her arms around him. "It's ok PeeWee. I love Dirk too. We all do. Maybe Ace will be able to..." She looked up and paused, surprised to see that he had left the room, "change his mind." In her heart she hoped he could. "Please Ace. Don't let him give up."

************

Ace sat by the bedside, unsure of where to begin. He felt so many different emotions: Anger, sadness pain; Yet none seemed to outweigh the other. They were all just a heavy burden he'd been holding on to for too long; One that he desperately needed to rid himself of. "Dirk, I need to make a confession. The last nine months have been the hardest of my life. Not a day went by that I didn't think of you, and of how I...I killed you. I couldn't deal with it; I didn't want to. Somewhere in the back of my mind I kept telling myself I could've saved you, that I could've pulled you out. But I didn't. I just walked away, and every damn day..."

Tears began to form in the corners of his eyes. "...every day I was reminded of how I let you down. What kind of brother am I that I could just let you die like that? I didn't even try. I didn't do anything! Why didn't I?" Taking Dirk's hand he squeezed hard. "Dirk, I don't know what to do. I can't forgive myself for what I've done. No matter how hard I've tried, I just can't do it. I need you Dirk, I need you to help me. I'm tired of fighting; Tired of feeling this way. Help me, please. No one else understands, but I know you do."

He heard the shuffling of footsteps; It was Doctor Brighthead. "Ace, I'm sorry to intrude, but Doctor Hall said your time is up." He put a hand on his shoulder and squeezed for reassurance. "You ok?"

Ace nodded wordlessly; He was too choked up to speak. As he went to pull his hand away, he felt Dirk's tighten, not wanting him to let go. The doctor noticed the response. "Dirk? You want Ace to stay with you?" Because of the respirator he was not able to talk; He motioned for the Doctor to hand him the pad of paper and pencil that lay beside the bed. After scribbling a few words, he handed the paper to Ace, who read it aloud.

The message was heartfelt; The writing familiar. It was from the same one who had sent the postcards; the Galactor informant:

Doctor

Ace needs me

Save my life

************

PART THREE: EPILOGUE:

Dirk bent down a placed a bouquet of flowers by his parents' gravestone. It had been over a year since he'd been there, and unlike the previous times, there was no remorse. It was time to start anew. "Mother, Father, I now know the truth; Computor still exists, but Galactor is gone. Your vision has been restored, and my vengeance has been fulfilled. You can rest easy now. It's over."

To the left of where he stood, there was a smaller gravestone; It read:

DEREK (DIRK) GIOVANNI

SEPT 1978 – OCT 1997

For this he also had a flower: A pink rose, to symbolize the end. At age eight, it had been the flower that destroyed his life; At age twenty, it would destroy the past. Pulling it from his pocket, he threw it at the headstone.

"Goodbye Derek Giovanni. May you finally be at peace."